It’s been a quarter century since the police officers who nearly beat Rodney King to death were acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force by a Simi Valley jury. The uprising that immediately followed their acquittal led the news for days afterwards, as footage of widespread fires, looting, and violence filled the airwaves.
It seemed thoroughly apocalyptic at the time, but of course what happened in Los Angeles in 1992 had previously happened there in 1965, and is likely to happen again in the future. The ubiquity of smart phones makes it exponentially harder to obscure or ignore incidents of police brutality, and the Southland – or Ferguson, Baltimore or Oakland – is only one citizen-journalist away from the next conflagration.
LA 92 (opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater on Friday, Nov. 17 – no East Bay play dates are currently scheduled) is a two-hour, chronological compilation of contemporaneous television news footage about the King case. Entirely free of narrative, the film uses the Watts uprising of ’65 as a framing device, with LA police chief William Parker’s bald-faced racism prominently featured.
Parker died in 1966, but the Los Angeles Police Department didn’t change: come the early 1990s, it was under the supervision of another racist chief, Daryl Gates, who considered African Americans little more than animals whose arteries didn’t work the same as those of “normal people.” Gates famously threatened – in open City Council hearings, no less – to withhold police services in the event of future disturbances, and it seems likely he followed through on his threat when trouble erupted at 71st and Normandie in LA on April 29, 1992.
Produced (surprisingly) by National Geographic, LA 92 will take older viewers on a harrowing trip down memory lane. Younger ones will watch the film and reflect upon how little we’ve changed or learned in the intervening 25 years.
‘Blow-Up’: Antonioni’s pop-art think piece
Probably the last thing the world needs is more ink spilled on behalf of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 pop-art think piece Blow-Up, but as it’s one of my ten favorite films of all time I couldn’t let its upcoming screening at Pacific Film Archive at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18 (as well as Nov. 24 and Dec. 1) pass without comment.
For those unfortunates who’ve never seen it, Blow-Up (here in a digital restoration) stars swinging ’60s heartthrob David Hemmings as a photographer who takes some pictures of a parkside assignation with murderous implications. The film’s title, of course, refers to the photographic process that allows images to be enlarged, but at the expense of clarity and definition.
The demystification of Blow-Up’s central mystery has been going on for years, accelerated by new and inexpensive technologies. When I first saw the film at a cinema (1981?), what I saw flashed by in seconds: there was no opportunity to rewind for a second look; one’s initial impression was all you had or were going to have until another opportunity to watch the film came along who knew when.
Now, of course, DVD and Blu-ray allow us to examine Antonioni’s masterpiece frame by frame with the kind of precision Hemmings’ character could only dream about. And while it’s a lot easier to settle on an interpretation of Blow-Up today than it was in 1966 (or 1981), it remains a film that plays best on the big screen.